I sat quietly in the corner of wide white tent where I hoped no one would bother me. My back was straight against the plastic white chair, knees together, shoulders poised, and hands folded gently across my lap–a little too professional in fact, I thought, for the occasion.
Stares from both men and women encompassed me, even a few snickers here and there. Little kids furrowed their brows and pointed their fingers at me as their parents quickly slapped their hands down. Even the donors who were currently getting their hair cut eyed me suspiciously. It only made me more uncomfortable than I already was. But their curiosity didn’t bother me. I would’ve been skeptical too if I saw a girl dressed in a full body-length black coat called an Abaya, a sparkly pink scarf called a hijab, and a pair of golden sunglasses, donating her hair.
“She’s donating her hair? But she’s wearing a scarf…”
“That girl has hair underneath that scarf?”
“How much hair does she possibly have to donate?”
They didn’t have to say it out loud. The stereotypes were written loudly all over their expressions. I continued to wait patiently as I watched one of the volunteers of the “Locks of Love Hair Donation” event go from each person to person, asking if they needed their hair to be braided. However, I didn’t want to immediately uncover my hair from my hijab, as I knew there was still a one hour wait. The fact that I was getting my hair cut in public in front of this huge crowd of fifty people instead of a private area was already enough to make me feel guilty.
For a second, I considered standing up and leaving. No one would ever know; they already judged me for being there in the first place. But before I could get up, I thought back to the several times people had commented about my hair, and whether or not it was showing.
One time, I was making my way to my locker when an acquaintance of mine stopped me. “Zereen, your hair is showing,” she said. “Oh! Thanks for letting me know,” I said shyly as I stuffed my hair into my shirt.
Later on that day, another friend of mine came up to me. “Your hair is showing.” I sighed. I wasn’t annoyed at the constant reminders from people. In fact, I appreciated them; people only had good intentions and reminded me in respect.
“Hey, if you claim you wear your scarf to conceal your hair from the public because your hair is considered sacred, then why do you let it show like that all the time? Why are you so careless about it? What’s the point of wearing your hijab?” I grew angry at her comment. She had no right to say that! It was none of her business what I chose to do with my hair. And I didn’t show my hair on purpose! I never would.
But in my heart, I secretly knew the reason why I quickly became angry. I was angry because she was right.
Cut to the moment where I’m sitting in the donation chair: I built the courage to call over the volunteer to braid my hair. I hesitantly raised a shaky hand.
“Yes? Did you have a question?”
“Actually…I’m donating my hair.” I watched her eyebrows raise and her expression change quickly from nonchalant to tentative and surprised. She didn’t have to say anything. I already knew what she was thinking.
“Okay, just take off your scarf,” she said carelessly.
I froze. It was an easy thing for her to say, but it was one of the most nerve racking moments in my life for me. I couldn’t just take off my scarf. Little did she or anyone know what she was asking me to do. My scarf was my faith. My scarf was one of the many aspects that tied me to my religion.
Yet it was exciting. It was the first time ever that I would unveil my hair in public, a crowd that included both males and females. The point of me wearing my hijab was to hide my hair from men. I chose to wear my hijab. And right now, I was choosing to take it off in front of everyone.
I unveiled my hair and let my silky, dark brown locks loose and drop down for everyone to see. A feeling of liberation and relief washed over me as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders (or shall I say, head?) and accompanying that freedom was a sensation of overriding guilt.
I’ve never found more amusement in any event in my life. Sudden gasps replaced the people’s previous snickers. They stared in shock. Even the volunteer suddenly became silent as I pulled out more and more hair. It was Rapunzel-length hair.
Their entertaining reactions portrayed exactly how much value our society places on hair. It was quite ridiculous, in fact.
But my lighthearted moment of pride quickly faded away.
I knew that if I was as religious as I claimed to be, as people knew me to be, then firstly, I would have cut my hair in a private area where no one could see my hair but me and the stylist. What I had just done was immoral and I was aware, yet I proceeded to sit there with my bare head as people stared in awe.
Secondly, I was ashamed of myself for feeling this liberation. The hijab was something I had committed to and I shouldn’t have felt that sensation of relief. Maybe I adored the attention? Maybe I enjoyed the feeling of the cool breeze rush through my hair? Maybe I simply wanted to cherish this “first time.” But none of these reasons justified what I had just done. And I felt so, so horrible for that.
To make matters worse, I could have put my scarf back on after the girl finished braiding my hair, then take it off again when it was finally my turn to cut my hair. But I didn’t. And it made me question my faith. Was I really as committed to wearing the hijab? Did I really understand the significance of it? How could I be so treacherous? What did this say about how devoted I really was to my religion?
After shaming and reprimanding myself for my actions for a good 45 minutes, it was finally my turn to let go of my hair. With each heavy and delayed step I took towards the barber, numerous thoughts ran through my mind. This was it. After two years of not cutting my hair, after 11 years of covering my hair from the public and finally exposing it to them today, this was it. This is where it all ended. If only everyone around me could understand how overwhelming it was for me to get a simple haircut. If only they knew how ashamed I was and that I no longer craved their attention.
It all happened so quickly. As the razor sliced through my hair, I attempted not to focus on the suspense created from the around me, their stares more intense than ever and their intimidating silence louder than the music playing in the room.
As she finished the last cut, I felt a heavy amount of hair suddenly drop down. A wave of sadness instantly washed over me. I knew it was for a good cause; my hair would be given to someone who needed it more than me. But unlike other people who cut their hair on a regular basis, I was cutting mine after growing it out for two years. Just like everyone else, I admired its length, its volume, its wavy texture. I was getting rid of the one thing that made me feel good about myself; the one thing that gave me confidence.
As I convinced myself I had done a good deed, I tried telling myself that at least my hair wouldn’t stick out of my scarf anymore. By this point, the ultra-strength elastic hair ties, scrunchies and rubber bands had given up. If I wanted to show my hair for good, I could easily take off my scarf. But that’s not what I aimed for. I wanted to continue wearing my scarf and cover my hair. And the only way I could do so was by cutting its ridiculous length.
And just like that, 20 inches of my hair was gone. The minute the braid was detached from the rest of my hair, everyone clapped and cheered. I embarrassedly smiled and then almost immediately, put my hijab back on. Although I had been doubtful during this experience of how devoted I really was to both my decision of wearing the hijab and my religion, I rekindled my faith by choosing to place my hijab back on my head. This time, I chose to give up the attention, the admiration, the liberation, and confidently walked away, returning to the person who I was when I first came here.
And to be honest, personally, I may have been ashamed of my actions then, but I think this experience was necessary. It made my faith and devotion stronger. Since then, I’ve been more cautious and aware of my hair showing around others. But I ask, next time, someone please warn me of the rollercoaster of emotions you experience when getting a haircut!